It does take a village…sort of

As a single mom of four young children, I’ve seen firsthand that it does take a village to raise a child.

So I wasn’t surprised to come across the report, “Hardwired to Connect:
The New Scientific Case for Authoritative Communities,” published by
the Institute for American Values in New York City.

Now back up — village?

You bet. Only, not the kind of village that Hillary Rodham Clinton
seems to envision, one with lots of federal spending and government
programs and day care. That kind of stuff is easy. It doesn’t really
ask anything of us. I mean the kind of village where adults are
committed to sacrificing of (ital) themselves (end ital) for their own
children and the children in the community. A village where we
recognize that the needs of children are not for federal dollars or
programs, but for human and spiritual connection, connection to
something bigger than themselves.

That’s what’s too often
missing in our communities, say the members of the Commission on
Children at Risk who authored “Hardwired,” a panel of leading
children’s doctors and research scientists combining both the physical
and social sciences in a major report on children.

Here’s what
the commissioners found: “One of every four adolescents in the U.S. is
currently at serious risk for not achieving productive adulthood, 21
percent of U.S. children ages 9 to 17 have a diagnosable mental
disorder or addiction, 8 percent of high school students suffer from
clinical depression, and 20 percent of students report seriously having
considered suicide in the past year.”

Just consider this
startling finding: “By the 1980s, U.S. children as a group were
reporting more anxiety than did children who were psychiatric patients
in the 1950s.”

One of the most interesting conclusions of the
report was that as a society we typically focus only on treating the
individual youth with the problem, instead of better comprehending that
those youths with individual pathologies are, generally speaking,
really just the tip of a very large iceberg. Perhaps that’s because
this would require the village to confront and finally challenge the
social changes that in many cases are producing these pathologies, and
that seems to be something the village does not want to do.

the commissioners put it, unfortunately “the bias (in our culture) is
consistently against recognizing and confronting those dimensions of a
problem that are structural, systemic, and social, and in favor of
interventions that are clinical, highly targeted, and oriented to
individual pathology.”

Bottom line? We need to move from a
culture that just focuses on illness in some youths (which of course
needs to be treated) and emphasizes instead promoting wellness
throughout a generation currently at risk.

The commissioners
used the term “authoritative” to mean deliberately created communities
that provide warmth and structure. First and foremost is the
two-parent, married biological or adoptive family. Flash: We must
finally admit that this is the best environment for raising children,
and that its demise is directly related to the rise in social
pathologies among youths. Yes, sometimes that demise is inescapable
and, of course, these pathologies can be overcome _ but that’s a lot
harder to do when we don’t first admit to the tragedy of broken
families, the tragedy they are for (ital) all (end ital) the children
in the village.

Another major finding? That we are (ital)
biologically (end ital) primed to be spiritual people, and that “the
human brain appears to be organized to ask ultimate (spiritual)
questions and seek ultimate answers.” No surprise here, the
commissioners also discovered that “religiosity and spirituality
significantly influence well being.” Conversely, “denying or ignoring
the spiritual needs of adolescents may end up creating a void in their
lives that is filled by other forms of quests and challenges, such as
drinking, unbridled consumerism, petty crime, sexual precocity, or
flirtations with violence.”

In other words, the more secular our
society becomes, whether in the public (ital) or (end ital) in the
private square, the more we put our children at risk.

Is the village ready to tackle that problem?

The commissioners came up with a list of recommendations for
individuals, neighborhoods, workplaces and private and public
resources. But “Integral to the (proposed) efforts,” said one
commissioner, “is a philosophical commitment that young people are
resources to be developed, not problems to be solved.” And, he might
have added, that takes real, personal sacrifice and commitment _ not
just federal dollars and government programs _ from the village.

(Betsy Hart is the author of “It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of
Pushover Parenting is Hurting Our Kids _ and What to Do About It.” She
can be reached at